Sum: 'Do you remember Will?' Merlin bit out, and he could see in Arthur's eyes that he didn't.
Will is hardly remembered or mentioned. Even Lancelot is given more attention, despite only knowing about Merlin's secret a few years and not being present for most of that time. Both of them died for Arthur, but more so for Merlin. They were both true friends. One can hardly compare deaths, but Will's quiet, personal admission, "I'm scared, Merlin," brought me more to tears than Lancelot's world-saving sacrifice. And Arthur scolds Merlin for not telling him about magic over Will's funeral pyre. Will obviously never meant much to him.
His warnings were subtle.
Merlin pleaded and begged and shouted and insulted, but those weren't his warnings. Often railing at Arthur would have the stubborn man reevaluate his judgement, simply because Merlin didn't do that very often (and frankly, Merlin was always right). Oftentimes he would let accused magic-users or druids go because they hadn't hurt anyone, maybe there was a mistake, more evidence as Merlin had screamed at him.
But sometimes, one or two few times, Arthur didn't.
Merlin cried then.
When the stupid man had the gall to ask why or I'm sorry this has hurt you, Merlin looked at him. Really looked at him. The air grew cold and plucky Merlin didn't smile. A subtle warning, if he saw it.
Merlin had to try hard the next day, so Arthur didn't grow suspicious.
Yes, the druids were harboring sorcerers; of course they were, they were a peaceful people who avoided bloodshed and aided the unfortunate. But council members and warrior knights warned that so many magic-users in one place were dangerous. That's true only if you attack them, Merlin thought furiously, I'm here helping, they know that; they won't attack. But Arthur was being swayed, that stupid noble prat at the head of his round table of knights, thinking of the safety of his people and categorizing living, breathing people into black and white.
Arthur had gathered his closest and most loyal knights to discuss strategy. Even Percival and Elyan and Gwaine and Leon were in agreement. Attend the horses, sharpen swords, ride out and end the threat; unsavory though the act might be, it was practical.
"Magic corrupts," Arthur said heavily. Oh, what nobility, such regret, Merlin thought maliciously. "The druids are peaceful, but with sorcerers in their midst stoking bloodlust, they will turn on us. I wish it did not have to come to this, but as King, my duty is to Camelot's people, first and foremost. We ride at dawn."
Merlin inhaled sharply.
The manservant stands behind the king, that is his place, but Merlin stepped forward. No one noticed until he spoke.
"Do you remember Will?" he bit out.
A King has to control his servant. "Merlin, not now—"
"Do you remember Will?"
Merlin could see in Arthur's eyes that he didn't. That hurt him more than he could say.
"Yes, I suppose you wouldn't," Merlin said acerbically, nodding. "He was my closest friend I'd known from birth, the nearest thing I've had to a brother. You didn't know him. He only saved your life from the raiders."
Finally, Arthur flinched. Were the memories filtering in? "This is a conversation for another time, Merlin," he commanded in a low tone, but Merlin wasn't hearing it.
"Yes, he had a sorcerer, yes, he had magic." Merlin ignored the table's reactions. He didn't care. "He saved your life and died doing it! And now you sit here in the safest city in the land, deciding to ride out and kill his kin."
But it wasn't Will's kin. It was Merlin's.
Arthur didn't know that, but should it matter?
Merlin furiously hoped they had enough of a bond between them that his words could hurt Arthur, just a little. (May Will forgive him by using his memory falsely.) Arthur's face wasn't sure how to shape itself. Merlin could see his words working inside the king, but there was pride there, and fear also, and Arthur had to give an answer or a reprimand to Merlin right now.
Merlin spared him the choice. "I'll leave now as you make your noble choice," he said quietly, and the door shut loudly behind him.
They didn't ride at dawn.
None who were present that day knew how to act around Merlin, probably because Merlin hadn't helped matters by acting the same as he always did: acting, putting the past behind him, worrying for the future. Merlin's cutting outburst made the knights uneasy, because nothing seemed off in Merlin. He was the same, but he wasn't the same. He'd shamed the king and changed his mind in less than a minute, after a day of deliberation, but the cheerful servant still whistled and scrubbed boots like nothing had changed. Because, really, for Merlin, nothing had.
Merlin was more uneasy about Arthur. Uncharacteristically, the royal had not marched Merlin to the stocks or stables or at least yelled at Merlin honestly and openly for such disrespect. Arthur had been quiet, the rage quietly building in his chest and eyes, tempered by genuine emotional hurt. Finally, one evening in Arthur's chambers as Merlin dressed him for bed, it culminated.
"You shamed me. You deliberately used the memory of your friend to hurt - to shame me in front of my men, and to manipulate my emotions. And here you are, my servant, acting as if nothing has happened. You can't speak to me that way in public, Merlin!"
Merlin's quiet submission caught Arthur off guard, curbing his rage. The king had obviously been expecting a row. Arthur fumbled, so Merlin took his chance.
"I'll speak to you whatever way you need to hear," Merlin shot back rapidly, "when you're being an ass and innocent lives are on the line." Arthur's chambers were dark, and the fire's dim light highlighted the sharp lines of Arthur's face. Arthur gripped his bedpost like the pommel of a sword.
"They're hardly innocent," Arthur said.
"There are women and children!" Merlin roared.
It was dangerously quiet.
"I'm not always going to be around to warn you, sire," Merlin said quietly. "You're making poor choices out of fear. You need to be better; a king who follows his good heart." He pointed at Arthur's chest.
Arthur stared at the offending finger.
"Lift your arms, sire."
Arthur did so mechanically. Emotions flickered in his eyes (they always were the most expressive feature in his face), and Merlin felt irrationally guilty; he'd shamed Arthur again. The dark room was quiet, and that was fine. Merlin hadn't really expected Arthur to apologize; it was enough that the druids were safe and weren't to be slaughtered. Now Merlin just had to dress the king for bed, talk to Gaius about this whole affair, curl up in bed and wake up in the morning with a lopsided grin so no one suspected where his loyalties lay...
"Was he. . .Will, the closest thing you had to a brother?" Arthur said quietly, unexpectedly.
"We grew up together," Merlin said, sighing. "He was a brave man."
"Yes, he was." Surprised, Merlin looked up. Arthur's face was near unreadable, but there was the oddest touch of something - jealousy? resignation? as he lowered his arms. "A good man."
Merlin understood that that was the closest thing he'd get to an apology. He nodded at Arthur.
Gwen remembered the time when Morgana thought she was Camelot's Queen and she'd asked Gwen where her loyalties lay. Gwen had lied and said to her, because she had no love of Uther (and that part, at least, wasn't a lie). Morgana had smiled, relieved, and a look of sympathy graced her face.
"I had forgotten that you, too, had suffered at Uther's hand."
Yes. She had forgotten.
Morgana hadn't remembered Gwen's father had been killed until that moment, and even then it was only as a supplement to Morgana's own pain and self-righteousness.
Will's memory saved hundreds, maybe thousands of druids. The correlation between Morgana and Arthur is deliberate.